Zola Jesus, Liturgy – 2/18/11

I was originally worried that this performance wouldn’t have been appropriate for the site, but Jon gave me the go-ahead. And Liturgy are on Metal Archives for some reason. (Reminder: Converge isn’t. Think about that for a second.)

Last Saturday a friend of mine convinced me to go along with her to Webster Hall in New York City and see Zola Jesus, a beloved icon of the Pitchfork crowd who I was not familiar with at all. She told me that her stuff was really excellent post-goth gloom in the vein of Siouxsie Sioux or The Cure, both of whom I genuinely enjoy, but I still wasn’t fully on board with shelling out $15 for an artist whose repertoire I was completely unacquainted with. And then she busted out the trump card – Liturgy would be the opening act. I would be seeing the one and only poster boys of their own self-invented genre of “transcendental black metal,” complete with excessively eloquent “are you fucking kidding” manifesto; the legendary lightning rods for controversy, insults, homophobic slurs, and all other types of angry Internet invective. Liturgy themselves, in the flesh. After the treatment I had given them before on this very site, there was no way I could pass this up.

The first thing I noticed about Liturgy was that they were short two members. Bassist Tyler Dusenbury and drummer Greg Fox had apparently jumped ship for greener pastures. Although Fox’s drumming was undoubtedly the highlight of my experiences with Renihilation and Aesthethica, I definitely can’t fault his decision. He had been replaced with a drum machine that had every setting cranked to maximum ala Anaal Nathrakh, which in my mind completely negated Triple H’s claim of representing “organic growth and evolution” or some hippie shit like that with the so-called “burst beat.” A drum machine is the very definition of cold and inorganic, just ask Godflesh! The second thing I noticed was that the sound was mixed horribly. Even without a bass guitar to add a low-end rumble, and even without multiple pieces of a drum set to individually sound check, the mix was still an indistinguishable muddy mess – the complex harmonies and rhythmic changes of Liturgy’s compositions were completely lost in an amelodic and arhythmic blizzard of tedium. The third thing I noticed was that the crowd’s response was some of the most tepid and lukewarm I’d ever seen at a show – and I’m from New York City, home to the most apathetic crowds in the world. Nobody talking at the bar or standing immobile and texting on the floor could be forced to care about the spectacle unfolding in front of them, and I certainly can’t hold that against them. The highlight of Liturgy’s set was when I suddenly came to the realization that all throughout their performance, they were deliberately trying to piss me off. This revelation came when Hunter and who I could only assume was second guitarist Bernard Gann launched into a multi-tracked layered acapella interlude that was painfully out of tune, over a sample of the beeping sound a truck makes when it’s backing up. I wish I was making that up, I really do, because then I wouldn’t have had to suffer through it.
Zola Jesus, while most certainly un-metal, completely won me over. The comparison to Siouxsie Sioux is incredibly apt, as most of the music consists of her husky alto over gloomy synths and atmospherics. She was joined for this performance by a couple synth players, an electric violin, and a guy on a drumset who was hitting the skins about as hard as those drummer trolls from the Siege of Minas Tirith. Calling her performance “heavy” was certainly justified, and I found myself inadvertently headbanging on more than one occasion. Whether that statement’s more praising of Zola Jesus or more condemning of Liturgy I’m not sure, but I’m certainly comfortable with either outcome. I’m not going to say much more about Zola Jesus because as mentioned before she’s very far from the blood-drenched shores of heavy metal, but I’ll close with urging anyone with a taste for gloom to check her out.

Bands: Liturgy, Zola Jesus

Date: 2/18/12

Score: 4/5 for ZJ, negative eightybajillion/5 for Liturgy